By Jennifer Rudolph
I often get asked the question "is it possible to break into the industry as an older actor." The answer is always a resounding YES much to their disbelief. Jumpstarting one's career can happen at any age and for anyone in any category. It's just a matter of marketing yourself optimally, possessing raw talent that has been honed and understanding the way the business works. As I always quote "luck is when preparation meets opportunity." - Seneca. When those 3 things line up, someone gets "lucky."
Meet AGR'r Barbara Thomas. Barbara came to AGR about 4 years ago and had just retired from working in a high level corporate job at HBO. Barbara had always wanted to pursue her acting career full time and was now about to do so. She had a Career Consultation with me in which we nailed down her "type", we fixed her resume, I told her who to go to for headshots (as she was using one that was...unacceptable...love you Barb), which casting directors to work with and learn from, what scenes to use and more. It took a while for Barbara to implement what we layed out but after some urging from me, she finally did it. Barbara got superb headshots from Jordan Matter which made her look like a pro. (see above) Your headshot is your calling card so it has to be great and industry standard.
Barbara started taking classes at AGR and learned quickly that she had to up her game. My good friendJordan Ancel says "ordinary things consistently done for time produce extraordinary results" This is exactly what started to happen for Barbara. She started getting great feedback from the casting directors and started forging relationships with them. Barbara's work was solid. At this point, Barbara attended our Manager Night and met Prestige Management. A friend of hers coincidentally referred her to Nicol Astell at Prestige a few years later and they signed her. Barbara got signed based on her talent AND the fact that she had iron-clad relationships with every major CD in NYC at this point. Since a manager only takes 15%, Barbara has to do 85% of the work she had done and continues to do. That consists of making Nicole's job easier by knowing her marketplace aka the CD's. Barbara got called in by Kate Geller from Chrystie Street Casting for NBC's THE BLACKLIST. Due to her tutelage at AGR, Barbara felt confident and ready for the audition. She nailed it...and she booked it. And just like that, a 50+ woman with no credits signed with a top manager and booked her first Primetime episodic.
It works. :)
I can't tell you enough how important it is to work with, learn from and forge relationships with casting directors. Things take time and it's a numbers game. Do your research, see what every CD is working on, put yourselves out there. Opportunities do NOT happen in a vacuum. There is no time like the present.
About the Author
By Paul Haggis
One the hardest parts of your job is getting the job. The audition process is inherently flawed in so many ways. It is very hard to be in the moment when you have to pretend that so much of what is going on in that room isn’t going on, and so much of what should be in a scene isn’t there. But to get to do the real work, in the real circumstances with the real actor across from you, somehow you have to master the audition process.
There are many good teachers and they can give you much better advice than whatever I will write here. I would only suggest a couple of things. First, as you know, nerves are your number one enemy. Of course, do your relaxation technique beforehand if that works for you, but just walking through that door can send even the best prepared actor into a panic. Natural insecurities are heightened at the very moment when you need to be relaxed and confident in your abilities.
So know this: everyone in that room wants you to get the part. If you are in that room, no matter how you got there, we want you. If we are looking at your tape, no matter how it got into our hands, we want you. We don’t want the person waiting in the hall or on the next link - we want you. Why? Because we are selfish. We hate the audition process as much as you do. We want to get the hell out of that room and get on with the fun part of shooting the movie or show. We certainly don’t want to have to call another six or ten actors and look at a dozen more videos. It is as much agony for us as it is for you. We aren’t your enemy, no matter how stern-faced or scary we look in that room. It doesn’t matter if you have zero experience or we have never heard of you, we want you to be the answer. Remember that. In that moment, we are on your side.
And we want what only you can bring to it — yourself, your instincts, your unique way of looking at life, through this character.
So find a way to let yourself shine through the material. Start by lowering the stakes for yourself. Yes, this could be the role of a lifetime, the one that makes all the difference in your career - but if you go in thinking that you are guaranteed to blow the audition. If it is that important, you will not be free to be in the moment. Look at the audition itself as a chance to work. For a few moments you get to practice your craft with a terrific casting director or director or whoever is sitting across from you. Don’t concern yourself with what comes after that. Treat it as an end in itself. You may or may not get the role - even if you do an amazing job. There are many considerations that go into a casting decision - you can’t control all those things. Control what you can - which is that moment, and that moment alone. Don’t expect the reader to be great, she or he probably won’t be. You are off book, you have done your preparation, you know the beats of the scene — now forget it all and be there. And if you do a good job, whether you get that role or not, they will remember you - and call you in for the next role, and the next.
And be grateful. I know it is hard sometimes, but gratitude is what makes great actors. Feel like you are owed something and the camera sees it, and so do we. Be grateful for the opportunity and walk out the door feeling good.
And finally, resist the urge to show us anything. If you are truly there, in the moment, all you need to do is think the thought and we will see it. Try and show us what you are feeling and you will push — and we will see that, too. Trust yourself, and your preparation.
And if you don’t do any of these things and you let your nerves run away with you and you know that you completely blew it — tell them immediately that you were ridiculously nervous and ask if they would mind very much if you do it again. They might say no, but they might be charmed and say yes. Then take a huge deep breath, go with your instincts, forget all that has happened and let it fly.
Book the job. Break a leg.
About the Author
By Jennifer Rudolph
Katja Blichfeld and I began teaching together 7 years ago when I FIRST opened The Actor's Green Room. We taught a class together for years and she became a permanent staple at AGR.
In Katja's words:
"I think The Actor's Green Room is a very valuable format for actors to participate in because it gives them an opportunity to receive professional feedback from multiple sources. It is a realistic sort of experience, in the sense that actors get varying opinions on their work – just as they would in life, going to different casting offices. Then the actors can put all this feedback together and assess where they are truly at in terms of ability and readiness for “the real world” of auditioning. It is a mistake for actors to think that school training is all they need to get in front of a camera. Once an actor gets in the room with the lights pointed at them, the camera in their face, etc – they see it isn’t just like sitting in class with a group of your peers. I always know that the actors I'll be meeting at AGR have already been schooled on what to expect in an audition, for instance. Her expertise in the casting industry has afforded her valuable insight: she knows how to guide actors in making real choices with the material they're given. And not just choices, but ones that are appropriate for television or film, which is what I am always casting for. It's great for me to come to her class and meet people who are ready to walk on to a set."
Katja was the Co-Casting Director for NBC's "30 ROCK" and eventually she won an Emmy for the show. Together we taught AGR's the in's and out's of the business and helped students hone their audition technique. When 30 ROCK ended, Katja teamed up with Jessica Daniels at Blichfeld/Daniels Casting and worked on "The Carrie Diaries." Throughout her tenure as a casting director Katja hired dozens of AGR's "30 ROCK", "The Carrie Diaries" and more. A few years ago, Katja got the itch to write and create a web series with her husband/actor/writer Ben Sinclair. They penned the web series High Maintenance which soon become a hit amongst viewers. Katja hired AGR'rs Bettina Bilger, Rosalie Tenseth, Max Jenkins, Lyman Chen, Shezi Sardar, Tonya Glanz, Jen Kwok and Tijuana Ricks, most of who she met at AGR. (Katja also hired Rosalie and Max for "30 ROCK" before HM. Max went on to book a Series Regular on NBC's "The Mysteries of Laura"). *I recommended Bettina and Rosalie to Katja after a 1AM email I received from her asking for ideas. Of course I was awake too :) Katja's nickname became "KAD" (Katja After Dark)
Katja and Ben released the initial episodes of High Maintenance free of charge. It quickly became a cult favorite among fans. Vimeo then partnered with them to release Season 2 exclusively for the Vimeo On Demand platform as Vimeo’s first ever original series. Since its 2014 debut, High Maintenance has become one of the all-time top-selling releases for Vimeo On Demand, and also has garnered strong reviews. TheHigh Maintenance web series also earned Blichfeld and Sinclair a WGA award for their episode “Rachel.”
Today...HBO announced it picked up the series and ordered 6 episodes. The prior 19 will be released as well. This means that all my AGR'rs will now be seen on HBO and will gain massive exposure. Said AGR'rs have MAJOR roles in "High Maintenance."
"If you build it, they will come" applies to everyone - not just actors. It is SO important to create from your heart and follow your passion. It is essential to create your own opportunities, forge relationships and meet the industry. You never know what will happen when. Make smart choices, put yourself out there, optimize your marketability and NEVER underestimate the power of any interaction you have. You may just end up in the hottest new series to hit HBO.
So proud of you, Katja. Can't wait to teach together again soon.
About the Author
By Jeremy Gordon
GO FOR IT! Just GO FOR IT! I’m often asked to give advice to actors, be it from an article, social media post, interview or podcast. I love sharing my opinions. They are loud and passionate. Hey! I’m from New York. Sue me! No…wait….please, don’t!
Recently I was asked a very difficult question in an interview by Trevor Algatt, when he interviewed me for his podcast, INSIDE ACTING.
Trevor’s question put me on the spot but has since become my favorite question I’ve ever been asked in an interview, “What is the one ‘golden nugget’ of advice you can give actors in one sentence?” Wow. That’s a doozy. There’s so much to tell you and those who know me or read my Backstage column know I’m anything but brief. In a flash it came to me. It’s the way I live my life, thank you mom and dad. “GO FOR IT!” Don’t hold back.Think and be smart but GO FOR IT. Hesitation kills, or so say the roadside raccoons. When are your auditions the best? When you go for it! When do we all find the most success? When we go for it. History has not been made by waiting or half assing it. At some point you must trust that you have the education and training and experience and the only thing holding you back is yourself. So GO FOR IT!
Years ago, when I was casting one of my very first movies, Doll Graveyard, a very talented actress by the name ofKrysten Green came in to audition for the sexy, blonde girl that gets killed first in the horror film. Let me repeat that it was one of the first movies I ever worked on so I didn’t really know that actors are not supposed to use the CD as a prop in their audition. She asked. I said, “Sure!” and she placed me in a chair in the middle of the room with the director and producer quietly sitting in the corner (thanks for the warning, Joe Dain!). The scene required that she seduce me, her boyfriend. As I’m sitting in an office chair on wheels, she starts the scene and is sitting on my lap and she’s doing a great job (with the scene, ahem ahem). All of a sudden the chair falls backwards and I’m flat on my back and she is literally straddling me. No joke! If ever there was a time for an actor to ask to start a scene over, it was now. She never asked to start over. She kept going. The director and producer were trying not to bust out laughing and I didn’t know WTF to do. Krysten finished the scene, helped me up, and picked up the chair as if this was no big thing. As funny as all of this was, and it was all kinds of funny, what really stood out to me was that she WENT FOR IT. Legendary director, Charles Band, hired her in the room. I’ve since retired my career as an audition prop but I will tell that story until the end of time. Props to Krysten Green and all of you who just GO FOR IT!
About the Author
By Jennifer Rudolph
Meet AGR'r Eric Elizaga. Eric came to me for a Career Consultation last year. He had been going to another workshop company for a while and wasn't getting any results. Eric told me that the classes at said other workshop company were overcrowded and that he felt lost in the crowd. He had just heard of AGR, our small class size and my consultations and wanted to see if we could figure out together why nothing was clicking for him.
Eric is a solid type but was marketing himself incorrectly. He didn't understand that he needed to play into the impression that the casting director would have of him when he walked into the room. That he needed to posture himself to fit the mold of what felt organic for both him and the casting director. Eric was presenting himself with sides that weren't suited for him. This plus being in a class with 15-20 people in a place with a cutthroat vibe and no nurturance was no bueno. In Eric's case it was a matter of changing the factors at hand. We honed his "type", I told him who to meet and work with, and gave him the right sides to use. Two of the casting directors I told Eric to meet were Melissa Moss and Allison Kirschner from Bowling/Miscia Casting. Eric told me he met them last year at the other workshop venue and nothing happened. I told him to meet them again at AGR under the new pretenses we set. That our classes top out at 8 actors per section and that the vibe is completely different which all in all leads to our actors and industry guests thriving. He was skeptical about meeting them again but I smiled and asked him to trust me.
Eric came to a double header workshop at AGR with Allison Kirschner and Melissa Moss both from Bowling/Miscia Casting. With his new sides and "type" ready to go, both CD's were floored. Allison called Eric in shortly thereafter for FOX's GOTHAM and Melissa called Eric in for BLUE BLOODS. Eric was put on hold for a Co-Star role but then the role got cut from the script. A few days later, Melissa reached out and offered Eric a different role opposite Donnie Wahlberg without him needing to audition for it. Eric had made a strong impression on both casting directors this time around. He was irrefutably marketable and "set ready."
Same casting directors + different venue + marketing advice = getting noticed.
About the Author
By Marcus Giamatti
After 30 years as a working actor, in all facets of the business, the one concept I’ve retained, or rather the one lesson I’ve had to constantly remind myself of, and still do to this day, is this: the only thing you have any control over in this crazy industry is getting better at your craft. All the other stuff; casting directors, agents, managers, “what I think they see me doing”, “what I should do to get noticed”, etc. is all beyond your control. And in my opinion the portal to any form of control, is through your work. And the key to success in your work lies is in how you prepare. How you leap off and approach a text, sides or a script. And your leaping off point should always begin and end with specifics.
Specifics are based on what a character needs and who that character is. Where he or she comes from. Their personal history and why they want what they want, and what’s at stake, and what will happen if they get what they want--or not. Specifics are having a clear objective when you come into a scene and a clear action, meaning HOW you are going to make the other person feel according to what your character needs and why. This is called intention. And then after you’ve locked in all of these specifics, you make choices. Active choices intended to affect the other character. Informed choices. And choices must be made; be they good, bad, right or wrong. You must make decisions as an actor.
This is particularly important in your approach to auditions. Because in the quest to be a working actor, this task, this unique task, is your job. So it’s important to be fully prepared before you walk in to that room. Know who your character is, what they want and why. How they are going to get what they want, and whatthe given circumstances are. Every time you pick up sides or a script start by putting these thoughts into practice, and begin the process of changing the way you look at material. This is true for Shakespeare, Chekhov or CSI Miami.
Now, I believe if you root yourself in these fundamentals, and build the foundation with this guide post for specifics, you will also find that other anxieties vanish. All the head chatter that can knock you out of the box and put you at a disadvantage before you even walk in to a casting session will subside. In other words, focus on the work. Make this your bible. Don’t worry about what you think, “they want to see”. Trust your instincts. Honor your unique vitality and play the scene.
Specifics also mean breaking the surface. Existing and being. Talking and listening, from your character’s unique point of view. Not showing the listener or the audience how you feel. Not playing behavior. But anchoring the need and the stakes of the situation in real intention, thus telling the character’s story. Because in audition the goal is also to be relaxed and believable. Relaxation after all is where the power lies. And it’s easier to do this if you are prepared and ready. Ready for anything that might occur during your time in that room. Producers and casting folks want to see that you’re ready to be cast now, and that you can walk on to that set tomorrow, prepared to rock. They want to see that you can take an adjustment, like a pro, and be flexible. And the best way to do this is to know the material, inside and out. This kind of prep will also give you a leg up on the other ten people auditioning for the role around you.
Now here is the kicker as far as auditions go, and why I think all of the approach principals I’ve mentioned are applicable and of useful value. As you know, often you get sides for an audition the night before, with no script. You may get a breakdown, and if you’re lucky, if it’s a television audition, the show is on the air, so you have a reference. But generally, you have no clue about what is going on with the character, what they want or who they are. But here is where you have the power to change the thought in your approach. The power to begin to erase the doubt and fill in the unknown. Scour the pages for clues as to what the character needs and who this person is. Ask lots of questions. Beat through the thickets and find the root of what your instinct tells you is driving or motivating the character and then make informed choices, commit to them, and tell the story…stay out of your own way and let the people on the other side of the camera, on the other side of the room be the judge, the guide. Let them tell you what they see and what they want to see you tweak. Then leave the room and move on, and get ready for the next opportunity. The next opportunity for success.
About the Author
By: Jennifer Rudolph
When breaking into the industry, it is crucial to know who you are and what you are selling. Any business person will tell you that packaging is a big part of the sell and knowing where you fit into the marketplace is another one. Since acting IS a business at the end of the day, the actors who mold themselves to appeal to their collective audience and make themselves viable are the ones who end up working.
Meet AGR'r Kris Dempsey (left). Kris came to meet with me for a Career Consultation last year. Kris was already signed with a manager but felt like she needed to map up a clearer trajectory and get clarity around how the industry saw her and what she was selling. A manager's job is to help 15% (as that is what they get paid). It was Kris' job to do the other 85% paving the way for her manager to be effective. We sat down together and analyzed what she was putting out there. I told her the "type" that she needed to market, what casting directors to get in front of, gave her clear cut sides that were written to sell and off she went. Kris got great feedback from the casting directors she started meeting.
Kris emailed me:
"Jen, I'm in love with your studio. I had done another studio when I first came to New York about 8 months ago not knowing about AGR and was actually directed to your studio by a fellow attendee after asking if this was all that was available to me as an actor. With the ability to pick my own sides that really showcase my talent and type... it's an unstoppable combination."
Quick statistic: Over 1500 actors are submitted for a Guest Star role that comes out on Breakdowns. Only 10-20 are called in. That is less than 1%. Before Kris and I met she could not get in the door. Kris just booked a Guest Star role on ABC's FOREVER which airs tonight at 10PM. She plays "Lily." The secret? Packaging, relationships, marketability and the talent to match.
Meet AGR'r Victor Joel Ortiz (right). Victor came to AGR unrepresented 2 years ago but had all the elements to snag the attention of a manager. He had a few credits under his belt, a killer headshot and was a very strong, marketable type. Victor came to our Manager Night 2 years ago and signed with Christopher Silvieri from Prestige Management. Since signing with Christopher, Victor has booked roles on the episodics POWER, PERSON OF INTEREST, THE UNBREAKABLE KIMMIE SCHMIDT, ALLEGIANCE, THE BLACKLIST and tonight Victor Guest Stars on ABC's FOREVER alongside Kris Dempsey.
It doesn't have to take "Forever." Fast track your career by taking control of it and being the CEO of your own destiny.
About the Author
By: Amanda B. Goodman
You may wonder how fire safety steps for kids a.k.a Stop, Drop, and Roll apply to the study of acting. Well, lucky for you, I just happen to have the answer to that. The craft of acting is not easy. Anyone who tells you differently is probably either a highly paid reality star or your neighbors’ cousins’ niece who stars in every community theatre production playing either an off-key Annie or a female Jesus. All of that is fine, but it isn’t going to get you to the root of this incredible art form, nor is it going to lead to success career as a serious actor.
I employ the formula of: Do, Watch, and Learn. And then this leads to Stop, Drop, and Roll. Do means taking action. If you are starting out as an actor, you must train. No matter what the old lady who sits next to you on the bus tells you about how talented you are reading the newspaper out loud to her, or how much natural talent you think you possess, doing is better than just believing. Talent exists, but it must be fostered. Take your time to get to where you need to be in your studies. I would never advise someone who has only taken a month of acting classes to suddenly expect to audition for major projects and immediately get cast. Most importantly, you can’t compare your progress to anyone else’s. Everyone learns and grows at their own pace. It’s not the finish line of the race that counts, it’s the journey to get there.
After you Do, you must Watch. To watch means quite literally; watch yourself. If you are pursuing a career in Film and TV, how can you know what looks right if you don’t know what you look like? This can be difficult for a lot of actors, I myself included. We all have times when vanity gets the best of us and we’d rather just Do and not Watch. While I agree, that we should never let the vanity aspect or society's expectations of what actor's are supposed to look like (um...how about humans?) affect our performances, we still need to be aware of how we come off on-camera. At AGR, one of the biggest benefits is being able to watch your work back after the intensive. When you get that video performance, watch it and then watch it again. Stop analyzing yourself for glamour reasons or get lost in viewing it like you’re watching cat videos on YouTube, and start to see if you are witnessing something believable. Begin to look at your work through the eyes of a casting professional. Would you cast the actor who continuously roll their eyes so far back into their skulls on each line that they look like one of those creepy baby dolls with rolling back eyes? Bleehh, I think not.
Another aspect of Watch that I would advise you to get in the habit of, is rehearsing while looking into the mirror. You want to be able to see how you look in order to keep yourself as still and real as possible. Take note of certain facial tics you may have and practice eliminating them. Imagine that the frame of the mirror is like the frame of the camera. If you are moving too much, or squinting to be flirty or sly, you’ll see how ridiculous it actually even if it doesn't feel like the movement is big. The camera sees all. It's like that pesky neighbor who knows more of your secrets than you do. We all have things we need to work on, and there is no shame in watching ourselves till we feel comfortable performing within the small space we are given. But give yourself a break. Over-analyzing can lead to a negative self-image (bag) or lead you down the path of over-rehearsing (worse). It’s not choreography; it’s just about knowing your spatial limits.
Watch, of course, leads to Learn. No matter what level of success or notoriety you achieve in this industry, you are always a student. You are a student of the craft, a student of the business, and a student in life. There is never an experience that you’ll have that isn’t an opportunity to learn. If you’ve been working on a film set for a month and you’ve only concerned yourself with your job as the actor, what will you get out of it in the end? Why not instead, take the downtime you have to ask someone on the crew about an aspect of their job? You will not only learn something new, but you will have formed a possible future business relationship, and in turn, may even learn something on the technical side of things that could reflect back to your art. Never close yourself off to learning.
Finally if you apply Watch, Do, and Learn, this will lead you to Stop, Drop, and Roll. Simply put: Stop worrying, Drop the ego, and let the camera Roll. Enjoy the ride, because we may get many shots to get a scene right, but only one shot at life. So work hard, and trust that it will all work out the way it is supposed to.
About the Author
By: Jennifer Rudolph
There is a quote that I love to reference.
"Luck is when preparation meets opportunity." - Seneca
In this business, it is a unique equation that lends itself to an actor succeeding. It is a combination of events and circumstances that rush together with a strong force and create a hurricane.
That's exactly what happened after AGR'r Freya Adams and I met for a Career Consultation last summer. Freya came to me feeling lost and misguided. She had been to other networking companies and hadn't garnered any results. She had been working with a manager who had a completely different vision of her and couldn't get her in the door. Freya was following the manager's vision knowing in her gut that something was off. The moment we sat down I told her I sensed a disconnect. I told her how she should be marketing herself and which casting directors she should be meeting and it was like I was speaking another language. As our session went on, I layed out a trajectory for her and it became clear that it was time to recalibrate. To start from scratch, re-brand herself, get in front of casting directors with the right material and get a new manager when the time was right. Freya was ready.
After our meeting, she started meeting casting directors at The Actor's Green Room and cut ties with her then manager. Within 3 months, Freya caught the attention of Christopher Silvieri from Prestige Management after meeting him at our Manager Night. Christopher ended up signing her. Freya was "viable" as I say. She was doing the work and was a strong "product." She was extremely marketable, had relationships with casting directors and was the complete package. Christopher signed her.
Not long after, Freya booked an episode of NBC's THE BLACKLIST, followed by NBC's THE SLAP and then a lead in the independent film ADVANTAGEOUS which ended up going to Sundance and would be the game changer.
Freya was voted the #1 Up and Comer To Watch at Sundance by IMDB.
It's amazing how a simple shift in perspective can change everything. If you're not getting the results you want from the industry, I encourage you to ask yourself...what is the industry telling you to do differently? Listen to the feedback and make the changes necessary.
Create your own luck with preparation and the opportunities that are there for the taking.
You can do it.
About the Author